THE POWER OF FOUR
"Two decimal points shy of zero"
The Onward and Upward Camp for children was the epitome of the ideal summer camp. It's premises were rustic, but modern. The staff was well-trained, well-groomed multi-talented in the outdoor skills and in courting the fragile psyche's of the children attending. Most of the attendee's came from well-off, if not rich families. At $5000 for a two week session, not surprising.
However, in the name of equality, a better learning environment, the Camp also took in a smattering of charity cases. Called quite euphemistically in the four color brochure "Public Service". One year it was four intercity children, another, five Russians, three almost juvenile deliquents from a youth aid organization (their counsellor was wisely an ex-marine and any trouble they could have caused was nipped in the bud early).
This year it was to be young genius'. Children who were thrust early into the higher academic world of adults and had no time or cause to be integrated into the fun and play of being a child. It would be a perfect thing to point out to visiting parents and if the one of them got famous later why just how nice to explain that the current Nobel Prize winner was an alumni of the Onward and Upward program!
Blair shifted his heavy backpack from his shoulder to the ground in front of him. What was Naomi thinking of, sending him to this artificial environment? Probably had to do with her latest, Thad, who thought him just a little too weird.
"Give the boy a chance to interact with children his own age, to play instead of having his nose in a book all the time. A great opportunity!" Thad had waxed loquaciously.
"You go then." Blair had muttered rebelliously. At the age of thirteen and four months, he certainly knew what he wanted to do and what he wanted.
Unfortunately, Naomi was in the early stages of her enrapturement of everthing Thad (Blair figured his name was Chad, but he lisped it as Thad) and tired of Blair's burgeoning teen-age angst.
"Think of it as an expedition to meet a new tribe of people." Naomi pushed the right button.
"Please sweetie. Then Thad and I can go to the retreat in New Mexico and I won't worry about you." Naomi pushed the guilt button and Blair caved in. So, here he was in the middle of Colorado at Camp Runamuck.
The sleek mini bus ferrying the campers from the nearest town was unloading behind him. Many of the children were yelling and greeting each other with familiarity. Blair found himself standing in a small knot of milling first timers.
He immediately began cataloging them in his mind. The little blonde pig-tailed girl with pink sequined backpack (how inpractical) and matching pink sneakers (how long would they stay pink?) was immediately dismissed. Anyway she was swept up by three clones and carried off in a sea of giggles. Two very young boys were swept away by a motherly looking lady before they could burst into tears. Imagine crying, because you were away from home. Blair snorted in disgust.
Behind him he heard a mild explitive in...Arabic?
A boy, about his age, with dusty blond hair falling over his glasses was struggling to lift his backpack, it was obviously bulging with books.
"Salaam aleicham" Blair said courteously. The boy didn't look like he came from an Arabic speaking country, but it didn't hurt to be polite.
"Aleicham salaam" the boy answered automatically. "Your accent is Egyptian?"
"I spent three months there when I was just a kid." Blair reached down to help him with the backpack. "Blair Sandburg"
"If we didn't have Arabic numerals we would be doing mathematics in Roman numerals which would make for clumsy equations, no finesse." A young boy with a riot of dark curls just like Blairs spoke up.
"Are you brothers?" Daniel asked.
"Not that I know of." Blair said.
"I've got an older brother, he's enough. I'm Charles Eppes. Uh Charlie." He remembered his mother and father urging him to develop some 'social skills'. Mingle with kids his age. He smiled or at least showed teeth.
Daniel's dark mood brightened fractionally. His social worker had pushed him into this 'vacation'. Actually, it was an excuse to get him switched to a new foster home with little or no fuss. Daniel had learned early on not to fuss with the social worker. He sighed heavily.
"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers." The inflection on happy was sour. The speaker was so thin, he made the other boys look healthy and robust. Like Daniel he had a mop of dirty blond hair and glasses.
"You're his brother?" Blair pointed between the two, though the newcomer was a good two inches taller than any of them.
"No. No brothers. No family, I mean I have a mother." He seem to gaze around him curiously as if just realizing he was on planet earth.
"Me too." Blair said blithely. "Just me and Naomi. I'm Blair." He stuck out a hand.
"Um Spencer, Spencer Reid." the young man eyed the hand if it were a dead fish.
"You know in some cultures the shaking of hands is considered bad luck." Daniel tried to fill in the nervous silence.
The four eyed each other critically, taking in neat but unexpensive clothing, the air of subdued woe.
"Hel-LO Campers!!" A very energetic buff man was waving enthusiastically at them as he approached at a brisk trot.
Daniel moaned something in Latin that had to do with pigs in graveyards.
"Point zero, null." Charlie whined.
Spencer looked around for escape.
"We are doomed." Blair intoned and the four boys moved instinctively closer to each other for mutual protection.
Their counsellor, Anders, was a hearty phys-ed major who figured good healthy excercise would make happy campers. None of the four boys were against the out-of-doors per se, but the fact that Anders had locked up their books for the duration of the camp was painful. Daniel's allergies became more virulent, Blair suddenly decided he was a vegetarian, Charlie used any and all sharp implements and flat surfaces to scrape mathematical formulas and Spencer became more distant.
Blair had learned early on in his life to make friends, even with the most difficult of people that he and Naomi had come across in their travels. However, to meet with someone his own age who could out think him or out talk him was a bit hard to get used to.
Daniel was okay, but soon lost interest when he realized how limited Blair's grasp of Arabic was. Charlie was fun to be with if he wasn't figuring out some mathematical formula for how many needles each kind of fir tree had, which meant he wasn't fun most of the time. Spencer was distant until he got used to the other boys then he couldn't be shut up about the people around them without revealing too much about himself.
Campers were expected to be in bed by 10:00 pm, and asleep not long afterwards. A full day's schedule to swimming, sports, handicrafts, and stodgy macaroni casserole was supposed to work its magic.
The four young genius' might be physically wiped, but their inquiring minds deprived of their favorite fuel, books, whirred and clicked long past bedtime.
"I'm bored." Charlie yawned.
Blair absentmindedly picked at a scab on his elbow. "What do we have on for tomorrow?"
"Canoeing or woodcraft. We get wet or we carve a stick into a toothpick." Spencer grunted.
"The old indian gravesite isn't until next week." Daniel sighed. As with most camp, there was the ubiquitous 'haunted' place. Rumors and horror stories were passed down from camper to camper and it was kept as a 'special treat' for them. A number of counsellors dressed in costume and liberally dusted with flour would pounce out of the bushes at intervals screaming war chants and brandishing rubber hatchets. It was a big number at the camp and scared most of the campers silly - for about two minutes.
"Actually," Blair said thoughtfully. "I think the indians of this area didn't bury their dead. They left the bodies on platforms to wither and dry and then be transported to the next world.
"Almost like natural mummification." Daniel added.
"That assumes then, that the proposed trip next week has to be planned in advance which means..." Spencer trailed off meaningfully. He learned quickly that his cabin mates were just as quick off the mark as he was.
"A trap. A bogus opportunity." Daniel groused.
"Why don't we go there ourselves?" Blair asked suddenly. "There must have been something behind the idea in the first place."
"It is probably just made up, just like the 'bears' in the woods." Spencer put quotation marks with his fingers around the word bears. A ruse if he ever heard one to keep the kids close to camp.
"We could have an expedition. Do our own exploring." Daniel's voice brightened.
"I could map out the area. We could make measurements." Charlie's fingers twitched for a pencil and paper, compass and ruler, plumb bob, and etc.
"Dig for real artifacts." Blair enthused.
"Yeah!" was the unified response.
"You guys get to sleep!" Anders hollered from his sectioned-off corner of the cabin sleepily.
"Yessir!" They chorused back and the four boys bounced over to Spence's bed for a whispered huddle and planning session for The Adventure.
Blair and Daniel were given the job of collecting the necessary tools for digging up artifacts. They liberated a couple of trowels from the gardeners shed, a collapsible shovel from the fire fighting post, and several brushes from the arts and crafts workshop.
Spencer was to find out the exact location of the so-called Indian Burial ground from the older campers. He played down the bruise on his arm from the sucker punch, but basked in his campmates awe of his powers of persuasion. He was cool.
Charlie scrounged vital supplies, like a map, compass, pencils, string and paper. He was given the provinder job since his mother had just sent him a box of cookies and fudge. He felt a little guilty since he was the only one with a normal family. Spencer's mother wrote him letters. Blair's mom was somewhere where post didn't come or go and Daniel was an orphan with no one. None of them even had a big brother who was a hero like Don. Don played baseball, Don protected him from bullies at school. Don who taught him to spit, and ride a bike with no hands.
Spencer and Blair, who were the most persuasive of the unholy quartet, worked out their cover story for Anders to fool him into thinking they were elsewhere when actually they were ...elsewhere, just not where he expected them to be. Spencer devised the plot and Blair delivered it.
"Obfuscation." Spencer declared stoutly defending his convoluted nest of not-so-truths to the counsellor.
"Obfuscation."Blair rolled the word around his tongue. " Nice word. I like the way you think Dr. Reid."
Spencer smiled broadly, lighting up his thin face. "My pleasure, Dr. Sandburg. Shall we see if Dr. Eppes and Dr.Jackson are ready?"
Anders delivered the boys to the docks for swimming the next morning. Charlie, being the smallest and lightest of the boys suddenly developed a sprained ankle which the necessitated the four of them going to visit the camp nurse. Solidarity between camp mates was a sign of positive influence so, the harried swim counsellor (Spencer had noticed his inability to remember a camper's name) gave them permission to carry off their 'wounded' member in a group. Once out of sight, Charlie was dropped.
"Hey, man. No more cookies for you, you weigh a ton!" Blair exclaimed. He had the heavy torso, while Spencer and Daniel had a leg each.
"They're my cookies." Charlie protested rubbing his butt.
"Our cookies." Spencer reminded him. "The expedition's cookies."
"Chocolate chip, with 7. 45 chips per cookie." Charlie said dreamily. "My mom makes them with two bags of chips once I pointed out that one bag of chips only allows for 3.23 chips per cookie which is only a ratio of 23 of chocolate per cookie which..."
"Isn't enough." the other three boys chorused and helped pull their friend to his feet. Backpacks which had been cleverly hidden earlier were retrieved and the four boys set out on their Adventure. Since he was the most travelled of the four, Blair was given the map and compass.
Over the seasons of camp, the trail to the 'Haunted Indian Burial Ground' had been festooned with various props such as grinning skulls, oversized arrowheads, and decorated dreamcatchers. So, the trail was well marked and the map and compass rather superfulous.
The skulls proved to be plaster of paris, the arrowheads made of plastic and the dreamcatchers, fodder for bird's nests. 'Bloody handprints' strategically placed on rocks and trees were examined and pronounced to be red poster paint.
"These people have no imagination." Daniel scoffed. "The evidence is transparent."
"This wouldn't even fool an eight-year-old." Spencer derided from his lofty position of 11½ years.
The site, while it could look spooky and foreboding under low light conditions was quickly perused and discarded as anything interesting. They scratched their names (written in cuneform - Daniel's idea) on a large rock. Blair was upset over the amount of empty coke cans, candy wrappers and other unbiodegradable trash left behind.
"So, where do we dig?" Spencer hefted the folding shovel.
"Excavate." Daniel looked around carefully.
"We should look for anomolies." Charlie's brow wrinkled in thought his brain calculating at lightning speed the number of trees and bushes in the area. "Look at that area over there. Unlike the surrounding trees, there is very sparse undergrowth."
"Which would make us assume that something disturbed the growth, or prevented the growth from happening." Blair mused.
The boys set to work in a methodical manner that would have warmed the cockles of any archeological dig's leader. Charlie and Blair measured and set out grid lines with the string while Spencer started to take notes. Daniel, as the acknowledged leader of the dig paced around the site, picking up rocks and tapping them with the trowel and stacking them into neat piles according to size and interest.
People who were kind would call these budding young genius' inquisitive, or curious, those who would know them later in life would call them trouble magnets, so it was no wonder that after a short time of digging they made a FIND.
Charlie found the first bone. "Hey, someone had a really big pork chop, or something." He was careful to brush around the bone with a number five brush that still had traces of blue and green paint around the base of the bristles.
"Uh uh. That's no pig bone." Spencer leaned over from his square to add his brush to his efforts. It's a tibia. Ah, um a human tibia."
"How do you know?" Charlie said wrinkling his nose.
"I read Gray's Anatomy when I was five."
The boys nodded. They knew if Spencer said he'd read something then he remembered rightly. It was a refreshing change for the brilliant young boy, as he was always being challenged by others and told he couldn't be right.
"If we go back to camp and tell them about a body being here, they'll just take it away from us." Daniel said crossing his arms in front of himself defensively. They were always taking away things from him.
Blair and Charlie looked a bit doubtful.
"Do you think it's American Indian?" Charlie asked.
"There would be signs to look for, like skeletal structure," Blair mused.
"The amount of decay of the bones could give a probable age." Daniel added.
"We need more data. The more data and facts we have then it is easier to come to some conclusion." Charlie added in and set to vigourously brushing away the dirt around the bone.
Some kids would have debated the issue for a while. Maybe even some squabbled over who did what and how. Most would have run screaming back to camp that they had found a BODY - A DEAD BODY IN THE WOODS. But as the four boys were in the top 1 group of intelligence they set out without too much fuss to unearth the bones of the poor soul who was buried in an unmarked grave in the woods. They took time to eat the cookies and demolish the fudge, to confer with Spencer's notes and get themselves sunburned.
They managed by late afternoon to uncover most of the bones of the lower torso.
"We need to have the skull." Daniel said and wheezed. He had just huffed into his inhaler not ten minutes ago and already he could feel the tightness building up again in his chest.
"Are you okay?" Blair looked at his friend carefully.
Daniel flapped his hand. "I'm fine."
"You look like road kill." Spencer said crouching over the remains. "Your eyes are red and squinchy."
"You're breathing like my brother Don when he reads his girly magazines." Charlie added helpfully.
"Charlie!" They rest yelled at him and he was whapped with hats.
"Well he does, and you do." The put on youngster protested.
"Once we quit we'll never get to come back." Daniel protested. "They'll call in experts and we'll never know who this is or what happened to them. We'll never know." He fumbled in his pocket for the inhaler and turned around trying to hide his tears of sudden anger.
"Not if we play this right." Blair said hopping from one foot to another.
"Finders keepers?" Charlie ventured.
"No, we have to convince them that we are the experts, and we are." Spencer said with growing confidence. "They are going to want our notes and experience. So, we make a deal that we can join the effort."
"Look, this will probably just get you all in trouble." Daniel turned back towards the other three. "We are already late for lunch and the camp will probably chuck us out."
"Man, you are too gloomy." Blair slung an arm around Daniel. "We are friends, fellow explorers. We don't run out when the canoe tips, or the cannibals attack."
"Trouble is when a burly tenth grader doesn't like your smart face." Spencer piped up and put his arm around Blair, a rather tentative move for him.
"Trouble is when your brother catches you reading his girly magazines." Charlie gave a wide grin and waggled his dark eyebrows.
It was four dirty, tired, sunburnt, boys that drug themselves back to the camp just in time for dinner. Anders, who had been looking for them since after lunch was relieved to find them more or less intact. He read them a lecture on following the set program and personally supervised their showers and took away their dessert for the evening meal. The shower supervision was highly embarrassing, but the loss of dessert wasn't felt as they were bloated on Charlie's cookies.
They laid low the next day, as Anders was watching them closely. During the crafts period while they were making craftsy things out of leather, they spent an enjoyable time bouncing around theories about the origin of the body and 'what did him in' in the way that most boys their age would talk about sports statistics and their favorite music track on a new album.
"Maybe he was a Sentinel for his tribe. Richard Burton," began Blair hesitantly.
"The explorer, not the actor." Daniel added helpfully.
"I knew that." Spenser snorted.
"Actor? Explorer?" Charlie asked innocently. If it didn't have to do with math, Charlie was a little lost, but he was learning from the others.
"He wrote about Sentinels, they had enhanced senses, could look out for the tribe, warn them of danger, track game, and smell the weather. Some day..." Blair paused and looked up at the sky. "Someday I'm gonna find a Sentinel and learn about him."
"I look forwards to reading it." Spencer said solemnly. "But if he had such good senses, why is he buried in an unmarked shallow grave?"
"There was no time to bury him properly." Charlie added.
"There were no teethmarks on the bones, so we can probably rule out death by wildlife." Daniel mused scuffing the toe of his tennis shoe in the dust.
The boys were silent for a moment their youthful brains almost grinding audibly.
"I think..." Blair began slowly and was interrupted by a call from Anders.
"Come on boys! We're going to practice archery, then we have to present a skit for the campfire tonight. I'm sure we can come up with something really neat!" Four sets of eyes blinked at him, then Charlie grinned. "Daniel knows some really neat stories about Egypt and their Gods." The fact that the stories were all bloodthirsty and ended badly struck a chord with the boys. They would send their fellow campers to bed after the campfire scared spitless and looking under their cots carefully.
"Or Spencer has some neat stuff about abnormal psychology. Makes you look at people a whole different way." Daniel added helpfully.
"No, no. I think Charlie should explain differential equations." Blair smiled.
"Uh, how about a funny version of Little Red Riding Hood?" Anders offered hopefully. "Or lead everyone in a rousing Row, Row, Row Your Boat?"
These offerings were met with groans and protestations. In the end, they did the Three Billy Goats Gruff in Marseilles dockyard French (where Blair picked up the language is probably a story in itself) which the boys thought was hilarious, but went way over the heads of anyone, even those professing to speak French. It was full of coarse metaphors and slang and references to the counsellors that to the uninitiated were untranslatable. Spencer had no problem remembering his lines and when Charlie had learned to think of his part (he was the Middle Billy Goat) as a mathematical formula he was able to swear in a credible French patois. His accent remained excretiable, according to Daniel, but as they had no dockyard workers nearby, his performance was passable.
The next day, they were more than ready to sneak off to their secret dig. The official visit to the Indian gravesite was only three days away and they wanted to have the whole body dug up by then.
All four boys had a maturity and intellect way beyond their years. Daniel and Spencer were also pushed by circumstances into an early responsibility by tragic circumstances. Blair had more experience and travel than many adults have in their lifetimes. Only Charlie was protected by a complete family, but even he was set apart by his world of numbers. Yet, they were kids. The consequences of their actions or the rightness of their doings wasn't thought of, they were merely feeding their voracious curiosity.
They spent a comfortable morning digging and scraping in the dirt. They took turns running back to the camp to appear at activities and to misdirect Anders and the other counsellors to look for them elsewheres. They were 'swimming', 'exploring', 'doing crafts', and a lot of time in the outhouse or taking showers.
Spencer found the skull. Of the four boys, he was the most brilliant, and the most fragile. His mind worked with lightning speed gathering facts around the site and collating them into a complete picture. These skills would make him some years later an excellent profiler. At this time, it scared him. It scared him badly.
The skull lay in fragments, almost shattered like a crystal goblet. The four boys crowded around and were quiet.
"It's busted." Charlie said sorrowfully. He had visions of a cool souvenir to bring back from camp, much better than a lumpy leather wallet made in crafts.
"Skulls don't bust easily." Blair said slowly.
Spencer's long thin fingers delicately lifted out a bright shiny lump from the eye socket.
"That's a bullet." Daniel said and fumbled for his inhaler.
"It's murder. We have uncovered a murder." Spencer's voice shook.
"We can't report it." Blair said slowly. He was worried. The last time he and Naomi met with the pigs they had tried to take him away from his mother.
"It's murder." Spencer repeated, his voice tighter. If the authorities came, they would send for his mother and she couldn't come. They would see how sick she was and separate them.
"Group home." Daniel's voice was up an octave after he had a strong huff on his inhalor. "I'll ...I'll be buried in a group home." His foster families hadn't been the greatest, but he knew from experience that a group home was a lot worse.
"Dad always says to call the police..." Charlie began again earnestly, but stopped when he saw the bleak look on the other three boys faces.
"No pigs." Blair said firmly.
"We need to hide this." Daniel waved a hand at the neat dig which now looked like a charnal place for his life.
"But, we have to let them know that someone is killed out here!" Charlie protested.
"You're safe, you have a family to protect you." Blair said softly. "I have to look out for Naomi. Daniel's on his own and Spencer only has his sick mom. You gotta do this for us, Charlie. We are friends aren't we?"
Charlie looked down. They were his friends, guys his age who didn't laugh at him, or tease him. Guys who were smart like he was. Being called a friend was a lot better than being called a weirdo or geek.
"Okay, but we gotta bury him proper." Charlie insisted.
Blair nodded. He sacrificed one of his shirts to pile the bones on. Unlike the other kids who gloried in a mere t-shirt, Blair dressed in layers. They found a large rotting tree some distance off the beaten track and carefully interred the bones.
"We had best say something, so his spirit will be at rest." Daniel said.
"He needs some good karma." Blair added.
"I remember how a mitzvah goes. We say it every year for Grandpa." Charlie volunteered.
The unknown victim of a murder was finally put to rest with an ancient Sumerian verse, a Buddist chant, a hebrew prayer, and a verse from the Bible. Each of the four then placed a large rock on top of the tree to represent themselves. Then the enormity hit them.
Spencer threw up. Charlie sniffled. Daniel began to wheeze. Blair blinked at the afternoon sun, a bad headache making his stomach roil. He swallowed hard.
The four boys literally crawled back into the camp half carrying one another. The first adult that met them took them immediately to the camp nurse.
"What happened? You all look terrible!" Anders came running into the little infirmary.
"We, we were just exploring the woods." Blair said hastily.
Charlie looked awfully white and was biting his lip. "We saw a b-b..."
"Bear!" Blair shouted. Spenser and Daniel looked relieved and then looked meaningfully at Charlie.
"Is that right? You saw a bear?" Anders said anxiously.
Three of the boys nodded vigourously, though Blair thought his head would roll off his shoulders with the movement.
Charlie's lips twitched and then he took a deep breath. "Yes, we saw a bear. It was a big bear!"
"Where did you see it?" Anders was worried. A bear hadn't been seen around the camp in over a decade, but they were out there.
"By the lake..."
"To the west of the archery range.."
"About two miles away..."
"A BIG bear..."
The four fingers pointing in slightly different directions wavered and finally settled on a general direction opposite to the Indian Burial Ground, and if anyone had thought about it at that time, opposite from the direction they arrived at the camp.
Anders rose the alarm to the head counsellor and the campers were all brought in closer to the cabins and the main buildings. The four boys became instant heroes. Anders was glad that they took the noise and alarm modestly, and despite looking rather green, were unhurt.
That night they were very quiet in their cabin.
"Thanks Charlie." Daniel finally whispered.
"S'okay." The young mathematician said sitting up in his sleeping bag. "We're like me and Don. Brothers y'know, gotta stick together even if you don't agree with what you're doing."
"You are a smart kid Charles Eppes." Blair said admiringly.
Charlie shivered in delight. He had been called genius, wizard, and other accolades since he was three, but this compliment pleased him best.
"Here. You can keep this." Spencer tossed something onto Charlie's bed.
Charlie picked up the small mis-shapen piece of metal. "The bullet?"
"Keep it, someday it may be important."
Blair felt a shiver go up his spine, as if there was something important in Spencer's words. But someday could possibly never come and the body in the woods would remain an unsolved mystery.
Over ten years later...